UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Dying with dignity?

Faith groups respond to Supreme Court ruling on physician-assisted death

By Dennis Gruending

The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down a law that makes it a crime for physicians to assist in the death of individuals who are grievously ill. While the court’s unanimous decision pleases many Canadians, it alarms many others and leaves religious leaders and politicians in a most delicate position.

The court has ruled that the existing law leaves people suffering from an irredeemable illness with a cruel choice. “[They] cannot seek a physician’s assistance in dying and may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering,” the court said. The judges added that the law violates the charter rights and is therefore unconstitutional. As such, the court gave the federal government one year to draft a new law, and if Ottawa does not do so, there will be no law in place to regulate physician-assisted death.

Of course, faith groups have long argued that life is a gift from God and that neither people who are ill nor those around them have the right to decide when life should end. They also warn lawmakers of a “slippery slope,” arguing that vulnerable people will come under pressure to choose death rather than burden their loved ones or society at large.


May Court Hospice provides palliative care in Ottawa. Photo by Dennis Gruending
May Court Hospice provides palliative care in Ottawa. Photo by Dennis Gruending
But the trial judge in the initial challenge to the law examined other jurisdictions where assisted death was available and concluded that the risks to vulnerable people were minimal. The Supreme Court judges agreed: “[The evidence] also supports her finding that a properly administered regulatory regime is capable of protecting the vulnerable from abuse or error.” So although judges in Canada don't look at laws based on hermeneutics, the court clearly considered moral and ethical dimensions. “An individual’s response to a grievous and irremediable medical condition is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy,” they said. “The prohibition [on physician-assisted death] denies people in this situation the right to make decisions concerning their bodily integrity and medical care and thus trenches on their liberty.”

Meanwhile, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada expressed “deep” disappointment with the judgment and said that the court had decided that in some circumstances, “the killing of a person will be legal.” The Catholic bishops also expressed their dismay, saying that "helping someone to commit suicide is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor it is part of palliative care.” Although the United Church of Canada made no formal statement, Moderator Gary Paterson wrote that “[the law] should change in order to allow physician-assisted dying in circumstances that meet carefully defined criteria.” The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Fred Hilz, also announced that his church is appointing a task force to guide its discussions on physician-assisted death.

Interestingly, all of these faith groups stressed the importance of improved palliative care, too. Although such care will not eliminate the requests for physician-assisted death by some people who are gravely ill, the consensus is that good palliative care makes all the difference in the quality of life during one's final stages. 


Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image